What we know about Robert Saleh, with his being a 'leading candidate' for Jets head coach

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Ralph Vacchiano
·3 min read
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Robert Saleh green background TREATED ART
Robert Saleh green background TREATED ART

Robert Saleh, the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, is the first candidate in the Jets’ head coaching search to be brought in for a second interview.

It remains to be seen whether he’ll be the last.

The 41-year-old Saleh is clearly “a leading candidate” for the job, according to a source, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he’s “the” leading candidate. He first interviewed with the Jets last Friday, one of nine candidates to meet virtually with Jets brass so far. He was scheduled to fly to New York on Tuesday, according to the NFL Network, to get the first in-person interview with the Jets since GM Joe Douglas began his search.

Normally, bringing a candidate in for a second interview would be a strong indication that he was about to be offered the job. But things have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic with all the initial interviews being conducted virtually. It’s possible a team would want to meet several candidates in person before deciding who their next coach should be.

In fact, that appeared to be the Jets’ plan -- to bring in multiple candidates for a second round of interviews – and it might still be. But there was some speculation around the NFL on Tuesday that they might move quickly on Saleh, before he was hired elsewhere.

It wasn’t clear at all, though, where else he might be hired. Saleh had already conducted virtual interviews with four other teams – the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Chargers – but he hasn’t appeared to be the leading candidate with any of them. Some thought the Dearborn, Mich., native would be the likely choice in Detroit, but the Lions are still in their initial phase of interviews and there’s been no indication he’ll be brought back in for a second round.

The Philadelphia Eagles did dive into the mix on Tuesday, when they reportedly requested permission to interview Saleh. But they are in the very early stages of their search and nowhere near making any decision since they just fired their head coach, Doug Pederson, on Monday.

The Jets, of course, have cast a “wide net” in their search, just as Douglas promised. In addition to Saleh, they also conducted virtual interviews over the past seven days with Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith and New Orleans Saints defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn.

Potentially complicating things is the fact that Bieniemy, Daboll, Staley and Glenn are on teams that are still in the playoffs, so they wouldn’t be available for an in-person interview until after their season is over – which for some of them might not be until after Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7. And though the Jets have preached patience with their search, it’s unclear if they’d be willing to wait that long to meet another finalist face-to-face.

It’s also not yet known who else would be considered a finalist. One source said the Jets were high on Daboll, who comes with the added benefit of allowing them to take a key coach away from a division rival. There is also is the possibility that Douglas will expand his search, especially with Pederson now on the market. Douglas and Pederson worked together in Philadelphia for three years and won a Super Bowl together with the Eagles back in 2017.

Pederson, though, is not sure if he wants to get back into coaching so soon after being fired in Philadelphia, a source said. He is expected to take another day at least to talk things over with his family before deciding whether to take a year off. If he doesn't, he could end up on the radar of multiple teams and it's widely expected the Jets would be one of them -- assuming their job is still open then.